At the end of September 2020, between two Corona lockdowns, the street opera ‘Slopera, tragedy of a demolition street’ was performed in the Almondestraat. A selection of Rotterdam actors and singers, a choir from Codarts and of course the old and new residents themselves brought to life the joy and sorrow from two years of departing residents and in-moving urban nomads, from shared suffering and shared joy, and from the players and victims of the urban housing allocation system. With a summary video impression we look back at one of the cultural highlights of the Pension Almonde project.
On Januari 29th, in the middle of a Covid-lockdown, Louis Volont (Department of Sociology & Culture Commons Quest Office, University of Antwerp) defended his doctoral thesis ‘Shapeshifting: The Cultural Production of Common Space’. City in the Making in general, and Pension Almonde specifically, was one of the three main cases Louis used as ‘witnesses for the defense’. The other two being The Public Land Grab (London) and Montana Verde (Antwerp). The full thesis can be read online, but here is a foretaste.
In his introduction Louis states his basic ‘empirical’ research question thus: “This enquiry puts the concept of common space to the test. My guiding question, is this one: how is common space’ produced within the current conditions of urban development? Put differently: through which tactics do urban activists give a spatial expression to the concept of the commons?”
The study main ‘guide’ is Lefebvre’s ‘triad’ (from ‘The Production of Space’ and ‘Critique of Everyday Life’); ‘lived’ space (representational space), conceived space (representations of space), and perceived space (spatial practice). But Louis renames/redefines this Lefebvrean triad because of: “Lefebvre’s ‘woolly’ formulation of the triad’s three spheres. Representations of space as well as spaces of representation seem to figure in the triad as things, namely as visual, verbal or written projections in the context of the former, and as spaces endowed with a sense of multiple meaning in the context of the latter. Spatial practice, then, emerges not as a ‘thing’, but as a ‘process’: a process of putting space to use, be it for survival, societal reproduction or capitalist growth.” Instead, the triad is reformulated as “the expressions of representation (formerly known as representations of space), configuration (formerly known as spatial practice), and signification (formerly known as spaces of representation): altogether the three ‘force fields’ of the triad. These three force fields leave behind any distinction between ‘thing and process’ but imply merely ‘a mode of doing’. This is a linguistic, pragmatic operation in order to be able to point, without much confusion, to each of the three elements under consideration. Hence: within the field of representation, I ask: how do commoners ‘think’ common space? Within the field of configuration, I ask: how do commoners ‘build’ common space? And in the field of signification, I ask: how do commoners ‘live’ common space?”
The fifth issue of De Stoker was written and edited by the people living and working at our project Pension Almonde. Because of the international characters of these ‘urban nomads’ it is fully in English. It’s main focus is the way the community dealt with Covid, and the lessons learned after one year of living at Almondestraat.
It has been quiet on our website for a while. Not because we have been paralyzed by the Coronavirus – on the contrary, things are happening in rapid succession, and then it is vital to take the most necessary action first. But now there is some time for an update.
First of all, all of us (the community of about 80 people) are doing well so far. Especially in Almondestraat, the residents of Pension Almonde have quickly switched to the ‘new normal’:
– Online communication via various channels (WhatsApp, radio, Facebook, video-meeting tools such as Zoom, etc.) has quickly been taken. Meetings and gatherings also continue as usual. We all learn that physical presence is not always necessary. – Communication from the balconies automatically maintains the correct social distance. – There has been singing and dancing on the balconies, online raves have been organized, online yoga is practised and social-distance sports activities are held in the park. – There is a great deal of solidarity and a special Care group has been created that checks whether everyone is doing well by direct telephone contact. – The outreach to the neighbourhood has also started. After Keju Kitchen (a commons catering company in the street) first changed the weekly soup day to a takeaway soup-counter and started cooking for the street, the service has now expanded – with financial support from the municipality – to free food provision for the elderly and deprived persons in the neighbourhood.
And: the first corona-era baby in our community entered the world yesterday. Mother and child are doing well. A second is in the planning for this week.
The daily developments can be followed through various channels:
Besides, ‘the media’ have been visiting in recent days. First, a short item in an ARTE / ZDf (German television) episode of Metropolis about Rotterdam culture, in which Melle Smets takes you to Almondestraat from minute 10. The recordings were actually 4 weeks ago; another world.
We are pleasantly surprised by the resilience and adaptability of our City in the Making community. It creates hope for a better future and shows that such close-knit communities are vital not only in the days of crisis but especially afterwards when hopefully another world emerges from the current misery.
From Thursday February 6th until Sunday 9th Rotterdam was under the spell of Rotterdam Art Week / Art Rotterdam. Almonde Boardinghouse took the opportunity to lift the roof in many of the houses and spaces in Almondestraat. During the day, the apartments of our street were transformed into the Not For Profit Art Party exhibition space (in collaboration with WORM). At night the ‘Party Everywhere’-party took over and many of the living spaces of our urban nomads were transformed into informal bars, pizza-places and meditation rooms. And , of course, at night visitors could sleep in one of the many rooms that were enhanced by the artists.
The Not For
Profit Art Party showed work form about 50 different artists in many of the apartments
of the boarding house. Representatives of several Rotterdam art institutions,
like Bcademie and Printroom, as well as from national institutions and of
course our in-house artists had their work on show. National newspaper de Volkskrant and online art magazine Jegens
& Tevens gave us rave reviews (in Dutch only).
For our boarding-house guests and fort he visiting
art lovers a new reception lobby was officially opened. With their key guest
were provided with essentials like a coffee mug, a tooth brush, banana body
lotion and (on request) condoms. The spaces of Keju kitchen were transformed into a
breakfast room / Karaoke Bar. Boarding-house host Flip also ran a bookshop.
From now on the reception lobby and our nightclub Xbar will be a permanent part
of our facilities.
On Saturday night, the cellar of our reception lobby, the Xbar (both by Studio C.A.R.E.), was the venue for local punk-blues band Sociale Onrust as well a few DJ’s. That night may doors opened for self-organized bars and meeting spaces in the living rooms; a ginger bar / monkey-cage, a pizza and tattoo parlour (real pizza’s, real tattoos), Silent Disco in a Bedouin tent, poetry from the balcony, a tea ceremony at midnight an much more. It was the place to be in Rotterdam (as it will be for the coming months.)
This bi-lingual issue of The Stoker is dedicated to the new City in the Making endeavour Almonde Boarding House. With interviews, descriptions of the different social and cultural activities and articles on urban nomadism and commoning.
Saturday June 22 from 14:00 en 19:00 Almonde Boarding house (Pension Almonde) will present its first open house party: Almonde Open . The first batch of new users of our ground floor commons at Almondestraat will present themselves to the neighborhood and the city. Every newcomer will organize its own mini festival from their own location; a bit inside, a bit outside on the street.
With among others: Pension Almonde – MotherDock – Al KHEMA, WoodstoneKugelblitz – Voici la femme – Food and other Stories – Copy Shop – Wasbuur – Stad in de Maak – Mini EKWC – Biobulkbende – Workshops – Presentations – Tours – Expositions – Soup – Performances – Chilling Where? Anywhere between house numbers 141 and 235.
Almonde Boarding House is a project of Stad in de Maak / City in the Making and takes place until at least the summer of 2020, in 52 apartments of the former social, to be redeveloped, houses at Almondestraat in Rotterdam. Almonde offers a temporary home for neighborhood initiatives, urban nomads and misfits. By combining the need for flexible and affordable places to live and work with social and cultural activities, degradation of the street is stopped and new places to meet are created. The neighborhood is host to newcomers and vice versa the newcomers are the guests and clients of the neighborhood activities.
Since January 2019, City in the Making has been given access to 52 apartments in Rotterdam’s Almondestraat for a period of at least 18 months. This section of the street gets temporally transformed into Boarding House Almonde (Pension Almonde), a home to urban nomads, including social and cultural facilities – commons – on its ground floor. The current tenants are gradually leaving their premises, and new, temporary residents are moving in. Ultimately, the apartments will get demolished.
Boarding House Almonde offers temporary residence to neighborhood initiatives and urban nomads in these former social-rental-sector apartments in the Almondestraat. By combining the demand for temporal and flexible housing space with the functionality of a community center, a new type of living-meeting space gets created. The neighborhood is host to the guests of the boarding house, and vice-versa are these newcomers customers of the neighborhood initiatives. The starting point of all of this is to create a living room / community space which next to offering practical facilities also enables to develop networks that enhance the social structure of the neighborhood.
Boarding house Almonde is situated in the ZoHo district, an urban redevelopment area on a stone’s throw from downtown Rotterdam. In 2018, a tender was launched calling project developers to bring this urban renewal operation into effect. In 2018 the social-rental-sector apartments of the Almondestraat have been included in this redevelopment effort due to issues with the structural integrity of their foundations. City in the Making has been asked by property owner (and social-rental operator) Havensteder to take on the vacancy management up to the moment of demolition to pay tribute to their origins and maintain the livability in the street.
Over a period of a year, the current tenants will move into their next apartments, possibly in the neighborhood, but more likely further removed from their current street. Some of the households are living for over half a century in the Almondestraat and are at home in this district like no other. Their stories are the first building blocks of the boarding house project. Artists, writers, researchers and journalists open up these stories to the broader world, to lend them a voice in the discussion around urban renewal. During a year, the boarding house will expand to its full capacity of 52 apartments, which takes up nearly the entire street. The transformation process of arrival and departure gets documented and performed in a ‘Scrapera’ (a street opera celebrating former life in the street) – the final chord of this phase of urban renewal. The boarding house itself may become nomadic and temporally move on to another urban renewal street, and another, thus achieving a permanent status.
From the beginning Stad in de Maak has been inspired by the German Mietshäuser Syndikat. This organisation, grounded in the German squatter movement of the 1980’s, at present consists of about 120 different autonomous co-housing (and mixed use -working and -cultural) projects. Each of the projects is self-organized and largely autonomous in its day to day decision making. The buildings are collectively self-managed and owned by the people living there. They pay rent to their own coop. The rents are kept low, and not having any money is never reason for not being admitted.
The ‘umbrella’ organisation Mietshauser Syndikat has a share in all the individual projects and can veto major systemic decisions, most notably the sale of the property. Because of this structure, the projects are in effect taken off the (speculative) market. Besides that, the Syndikat offers know-how to new co-housing projects. Know-how that was gathered over time in the more than 100 self-built and managed projects. Since the older projects have paid off their loans, but keep on paying rent, the Syndikat, or the individual members, can now also offer financial aid in starting new projects.
Thus the principles of self-organisation and management, of solidarity and of non-speculative, affordable housing for all have been firmly embedded in all the groups that together make up de Syndicat.
For a couple of years several groups in the Netherlands have talked about starting our own Syndicat. This has been achieved this year by starting de vereniging (union) VrijCoop. Stad in de Maak is one of the founding members. A direct copy of the German model proved not possible because of different legal systems. But we managed to stay very close to our inspiration. Several projects are about to start, EcoVillage Boekel probably being the first.
At Stad in de Maak we have been trying several times to bid on derelict buildings in order to escape the temporality of our current houses. Having been severely outbid by the ‘market’ on these occasions, we still have good hope that we will succeed soon.
See all about the Mietshauser Syndicat in this one hour movie ‘Das ist unser Haus’ (This is our House, German spoken, but subtitled in English or Nederlands, choose the CC button (chosen caption) in the Vimeo menu) http://das-ist-unser-haus.de/
Who controls access to land in the city, controls (much of) its urban future. This makes that in the urban economy, land plays a crucial role – so important actually, that its value is often far more relevant than all that what is built in stone, steel or concrete on top of it. When we speak about rising prices of real estate, we often forget that it is largely the price of the land underneath that is increasing. Not so strange if you consider that in most cities you evidently cannot ‘simply’ create new construction land, so the supply is limited.
Buy land, they’re not making it anymore
“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore,” Mark Twain famously said. Twain was obviously unaware of new land that was made in the Netherlands by impoldering large parts of the sea, but in general, he is right, of course. In times of surging real-estate prices (like today in Rotterdam) there is nothing to balance its demand – hence it gets an ‘unhealthy’ value. There is a substantial segment of economists that argue that land should therefore not be considered a commodity: its price-point cannot, because of its inherent scarcity, balance according to the ‘market’ rulebook of supply-and-demand. And precisely that now makes it such an easy prey in speculative development schemes.
Besides its fixed supply, there are other reasons why land is different than the usual commodities we buy on the market. The basic capitalist idea is that surplus value is created by labour on raw materials. But land value can increase by legislation (when a building permit is given on agricultural land for instance) or by changes in its surroundings (when a nice park is made in front of your house, the value of land and house rises, and this significant increase is hardly compensated by a bit more land tax you need to pay). You can sit back and increase your capital as a landowner by simply waiting (the value will rise anyway) or by leasing it out (which aristocratic families have done for ages). No need for any added labour.